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Stanford Report, May 31, 2000

Palo Alto planning commission recommends approval of cancer center  

BY RUTHANN RICHTER

The Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission has recommended that the city approve construction of a new, state-of-the-art building that will consolidate and expand Stanford's existing cancer programs.

With the commission's recommendation May 24, the plans for the Center for Cancer Treatment and Prevention/Ambulatory Care Pavilion will now move to the Palo Alto City Council for a final look. The council is tentatively scheduled to review the plans July 10.

The commission's recommendation followed an evening of testimony by patients, physicians and administrators at Stanford, who said the Medical Center is in dire need of a physical facility to match its world-class care.

Leukemia patient Sarah Moss, who is now in remission following a bone marrow transplant, said she found the overcrowded, windowless day hospital for cancer patients to be "dreary and depressing," a stark contrast to her inpatient room, which was light, spacious and private.

"Talk about environment. That is an environment that is not helpful. Patients come [to Stanford] from all over the country, and they need a better place to go," Moss said.

The new, 218,000-square-foot building is to be located between Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the Blake Wilbur Clinic, on land now occupied by parking lots and by a small administrative office building at 851 Welch Road. The new structure will bring together under a single roof all clinical cancer specialists and services now scattered throughout the Medical Center.

"The new facility will bring doctors to the patient. It won't require patients to go from clinic to clinic, from building to building," as is now the case, Sarah Donaldson, MD, professor of radiation oncology and associate director of the Clinical Cancer Center, told the city planners.

She said the four-story, $117 million structure also reflects dramatic changes in cancer care in recent decades. These include sophisticated new technologies, such as linear accelerators, that require considerably more space, and the move to outpatient treatments that call for services, such as a 24-hour infusion center, that are available to patients on evenings and weekends.

While none of the commission members disputed the value of the new cancer building, they expressed concern about some of the impacts on the surrounding community, particularly the expected increase in traffic.

"We are incredibly fortunate that Stanford wants to build this facility," said Commissioner Jon Schink. "Our job is to make the impacts tolerable to the rest of the community. We continue to have significant projects, and our traffic continues to get more challenging by the day."

As part of the project, Stanford has agreed to beef up existing programs to minimize the number of car trips by employees to and from the Medical Center. Commissioner Patrick Burt noted that the community already is experiencing some traffic fallout from the Sand Hill Road project, as well as the Palo Alto Medical Foundation relocation, and urged Stanford officials to come up with "creative and forceful" programs to keep traffic levels in check.

Stanford also has proposed building a new, four-level underground parking lot beneath the grassy median along Pasteur Drive to accommodate increased parking demand. The new lot, with more than 1,000 spaces, would be designated for employee parking, while the existing garage on Blake Wilbur Drive would be set aside for patients and visitors. Kathy Schmidt, chair of the Planning Commission, urged the Medical Center to create an urban, park-like setting on the grassy area above the new garage so that employees would be encouraged to stay on campus during lunch or break time, rather than use their cars to travel into town.

The Planning Commission also recommended that the City Council initiate a general plan change that would rezone certain Welch Road properties for housing.

Commissioners Schmidt, Schink, Burt and Owen Byrd voted unanimously to approve the plans after making some minor modifications. The three other commissioners did not take part in the hearing because of conflicts of interest. SR